The Wentworth by-election is still a thing, but interesting and perhaps important things happen elsewhere.
1. Spain lost all its men in an ancient invasion
The time was about 4500 years ago. Spain was invaded from the east by a group that stemmed from the Yamnaya herders on the steppes north of the Black Sea, the group responsible for founding the Indo-European language group. A genetic study led by David Reich of Harvard Medical School has found that the local male line disappeared instantly with that invasion (New Scientist, pay-walled), never to be seen again. After the invasion the resulting population had 40 per cent Yamnaya ancestry and 60 per cent local ancestry. However, the Y-chromosome of the male line changed completely to the Yamnaya line.
It means the local males were either killed or enslaved, according to the article. I would suggest that if enslaved the males were probably castrated. In any case the article says:
This could only have happened if society had come firmly under the control of the [invading] males, with females being treated as second-class citizens or even property…
In Britain the people who made Stonehenge fared even worse, but the process was different. Over several hundred years 90% of the local gene pool was replaced by steppe-related DNA.
Both stories are very different from the theory put forward by David Anthony (see Deep origins: language and Deep origins: patriarchy). He suggests that the expanding Yamnaya took over at the top, as it were, in a patron-host relationship, leaving existing peoples in situ.
New ancient genomes are turning up about once a week on average, so watch this space.
2. The theory of everything
Everyone knows that the answer to life the universe and everything is supposed to be 42. Seriously, though, there are at least 19 numerical constants without which the ‘standard model of the universe’ would not work – for example, the speed of light, the Planck constant, the Hubble constant, the mass of the Higgs boson and the gravitational constant.
New Scientist again has an article There’s a glitch at the edge of the universe that could remake physics which tells us that there is one number that was thought to be constant, but perhaps isn’t. That is alpha, or the ‘fine structure constant’ which has to do with the strength of the interactions between light and matter. The number is 0.00729735, near enough to 1/137. It’s important:
- Change this number by a smidgen, and you change the universe. Increase it too much, and protons repel each other so strongly that small atomic nuclei can’t hold together. Go a bit further and nuclear fusion factories within stars grind to a halt and can no longer produce carbon, the element on which life is based. Make alpha much smaller, and molecular bonds fall apart at lower temperatures, altering many processes essential to life.
Now as far back as 1998 physicist John Webb and colleagues at the University of New South Wales observed that:
between 12 and 6 billion years ago, alpha had increased by an average of six parts in a million. It wasn’t enough to significantly affect physics at that time. But it was a change.
Since then it has been a yo-yo of allegations of error and refutation of allegations.
- Webb and a changing group of collaborators would publish a fresh analysis showing a variation using new or different data, and some other group would refute the result. Each time, Webb’s team refuted the refutations, while working to find sources of systematic error for themselves. In the meantime, they also gained access to data from another telescope, the Very Large Telescope (VLT) high in the Chilean Andes.
Their latest claim about alpha is that it changes gradually and approximately linearly with distance from Earth.
Michael Murphy of Swinburne University, who knows the field better than most, did his PhD under Webb, thinks the whole thing will go away with better measurements. Maybe so, maybe not.
I’d like to think of the universe as a temporary effusion in some bigger soup, which after a mere 30 billion years or so, will just fold back into where it came from as though nothing happened.
3. Fukuyama on what Karl Marx got right, the rivals to liberal democracy and why he fears a US-China war
Francis Fukuyama has written a new book, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment and talks with George Eaton, political editor of the New Statesman.
He says we should institute “redistributive programmes that try to redress this big imbalance in both incomes and wealth that has emerged”.
He also said that a certain set of ideas held by Reagan and Thatcher about the benefits of unregulated markets took hold, and in many ways it’s had a disastrous effect.
In terms of the role of finance, if there’s anything we learned from the financial crisis it’s that you’ve got to regulate the sector like hell because they’ll make everyone else pay. That whole ideology became very deeply embedded within the Eurozone, the austerity that Germany imposed on southern Europe has been disastrous.
- “At this juncture, it seems to me that certain things Karl Marx said are turning out to be true. He talked about the crisis of overproduction… that workers would be impoverished and there would be insufficient demand.” Yet the only plausible systemic rival to liberal democracy, Fukuyama said, was not socialism but China’s state capitalist model.
The Chinese are arguing openly that it is a superior one because they can guarantee stability and economic growth over the long run in a way that democracy can’t…
And if they are still doing better than the US in 30 years time, they have a real argument, says Fukuyama.
In case you thought otherwise, he reckons that he hasn’t changed his mind, there is continuity in his thought, and if you missed it you haven’t being paying attention.
4. What Is Wrong With The Nordic Model?
Michael Cottakis at at Social Democracy asks the question. He’s trying to understand why the Nordic countries have also been infected with anti-immigration identity politics of the far right.
Looking at Sweden, the answer is pretty simple. It’s not the ‘Nordic model’ or the EU. Quite simply they have been taking in more refugees than they have been able to integrate.
The Swedish economy is now highly service oriented, and required well-qualified workers. Refugees are not making the grade, and the low paid jobs for the unskilled simply don’t exist.
Cottakis’ solution is to enhance education facilities and look at employment practices, which over-emphasise qualifications, rather than cut down on refugees.
In 2015 Sweden took in 160,000 refugees, with a population of around 10 million. I worked the numbers and came out with the equivalent in Germany of 1.3 million, and in Australia 395,000. How would we fare with Sweden’s level of refugee intake?
5. The strange demise and disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi
At time of writing here are the latest three reports:
- Saudi Arabia admits missing journalist is dead, but where’s the body?
The latest from the Saudis is that Khashoggi was accidentally choked when they tried to stop him yelling out, then the team involved panicked and organised a cover-up.
There is some story about a 15-member team from the intelligence and security forces to going to Istanbul to meet Khashoggi at the consulate and try to convince him to return to Saudi Arabia.
Eighteen nationals have reportedly been arrested in connection with the suspected murder, and five of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s top aides — including intelligence official Ahmad al-Assiri and royal court media adviser Saud al-Qahtani — have been sacked.
It looks to me that the Turks had the place bugged, but didn’t want to say so. I’d reckon they and the Americans, and the Saudis, know perfectly well what happened. It’s whether firstly, whether the Saudis can come up with a plausible story that will allow Trump to keep the US relationship with the Saudis on the rails, which he would clearly prefer, and secondly what the Turks choose to tell the world.